12 Tribes Education

At 6:00 in the morning a community member wakes you up by playing an acoustic guitar outside your window and singing a song of devotion to Yahshua (as in the ancient Hebrew form of Jesus).  You have an hour to get ready for the day, which will be tightly scheduled.  First thing after getting up is a collective meeting to sing more of the songs, dance, give thanks, and discuss aspects of the faith and lives in the community; it is the community’s equivalent of a church service and will be repeated before dinner.  Everyone wears braided headbands which are symbolic of the crowns that they expect to wear after the second coming of Jesus, at which time the 12 Tribes will be the Brides of Jesus and will help him rule during the 1,000 years of peace on Earth before Judgment Day.  Children are home schooled, only a few key people are allowed to have cell phones, the internet is a remote concept, and the outside world is seen as corrupt, horribly selfish, and utterly doomed.

(No full mirror in the Single Brothers’ Room bunk house, but for functional need there was this little one available on top of the rack for dusty work boots.)

The easy response when you hear about a group like this, living apart in a religious commune, is to mock it as a cult.  Nutjobs!  Do they have a secret handshake?  Arcane midnight rituals and speaking in tongues?

But it quickly became apparent to me after I arrived that this community is something very different.  I can’t claim to understand it at all well, and I wish I had the time to better process it, and to be honest I would love to write an entire book on the place, but lacking that time and energy, I will pick a couple of points to mention.

The principal complaint of the other volunteer worker (www.wwoof.org) who was there before me concerned the children, who are home schooled and largely isolated from the outside world; she asserted that being raised in the community was child abuse.  I can see her point (and apparently the governments of some of the countries where the 12 Tribes have communities occasionally do too) because after all, the children didn’t choose to grow up there.  But no children get to choose where to grow up.  The children growing up with televisions as babysitters didn’t choose that, nor did the children in South Africa choose to become orphans and struggle to find enough food every day (just a little reminder that you may want to donate to help us this summer).  And it was glaringly obvious to me that these kids had a pretty good lot in life, or at least a damn good start.

Children are entirely home schooled at the community, which produces its own text books.  This is a terrifying concept, and it is one of my principle regrets that I was unable to see any of the books, particularly the world history ones.

According to one of the two community members who became something of my liaisons (this was mostly conducted in Spanish, so I may be a little awkward on the semantics), the education emphasizes wisdom and proper attitudes more than knowledge.  Sort of like how schools are supposed to emphasize critical thinking skills above rote memorization, only in a defined set of religious ethics sort of way.  One of the fundamental principles of the community is the importance of serving others (and primarily of course serving God) and you could clearly see this reflected in the actions of the children.

They work.  Maybe alongside their parents, maybe at relatively menial tasks, and always at mealtimes and during community activities.  (This is a half of a foldable bike cut off and welded to a frame to form….um…a mobile hoeing machine?  It was very possibly made by an adolescent welder.)  Sounds like child labor, but these are not neglected children slaving away in coal mines.  In fact, I have never seen a group of children so open, friendly, helpful, gracious, generous, and all around gall-darn good-natured.  It was almost creepy.

One tiny example.  The community eats very basic food, not a lot of spices, healthy, staples.  There was one dessert during the week I was there, on the night of Shabbat, and it was clearly a special occasion.  They had homemade (of course) éclairs, though with about a fiftieth of the sugar of what I am used to.  The night’s squad of young helpers walked around with trays, handing them out to anyone who wanted one.  After this was completed, I saw one of the helpers, a girl of around 6 years, finally sit down with her own dessert.

Her mother pointed out that her younger sister had not had one yet.  Without a squeak of complaint she handed hers over, then went and got herself another.

A 6 year old, after delivering the week’s only dessert to others first, graciously handed over her own to her younger sister.

I don’t mean to be pessimistic (which is the grand failing of the community), but what percentage of 6 year olds would do that without any complaint or temper.  And this was completely typical, not deserving of any remark whatsoever among the community.  It is expected.

As regarding the education I can also say that the children spoke English very well (plus Spanish of course), and I got to watch one bright eyed youngster explain all about the solar oven he had built in one of his classes (to demonstrate they baked some apples, which were kind of like the community’s version of apple pie, no sugar, no cinnamon, no sauce, no crust, just wholesome appley goodness).  The classes are actually called “teachings” and many of the adults in the community share the responsibility of teaching, each to their specialty apparently.  Class sizes seem to be small, with the ones I saw ranging between a couple students to maybe 10, although most of the teachings were conducted in the classrooms away from casual observation.

(The land overlooks a gorgeous Basque Country valley near the border with France on the edge of the Pyrenees Mountains.)

Man, I just got started and that is already too long for a blog.  And I am hungry again.  And I need to get my butt to Pamplona to start the Camino de Santiago.  Crap, once that starts, I’m really not going to have time to tell you more about the farm.  And I haven’t mentioned my first experience with couch surfing yet!  (Spoiler: it has been fanfuckingtastic.)

Vamos a ver.